Stephen Colbert and the Supreme Court

In the interview touted below by Jim Harper, the faux-neocon character played by Stephen Colbert asks constitutional scholar Neal Katyal, “Where does the Constitution get off telling the government what it can and cannot do?”

He’s ostensibly speaking for the four conservative justices who dissented in the Boumediene v. Bush case. But today he could be channeling the four liberal justices who dissented in the D.C. v. Heller case. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that he couldn’t imagine that the Constitution would “limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons.”

It is sadly hard to find justices who don’t, in some cases, sound like “Stephen Colbert”:

“Where does the Constitution get off telling the government what it can and cannot do?”

For a discussion of how the Constitution does in fact establish a government of delegated, enumerated, and thus limited powers, go here.

Holy Moses, Do We Need Medicaid Reform

Steve Moses is a one-man long-term-care-reform juggernaut. 

No, literally. Moses is currently conducting a whirlwind National Long-Term Care Consciousness Tour.  The tour aims to educate the public about the damage that government has done to the market for long-term care, the fact that the government will not be able to provide long-term care to baby boomers as it has for their parents, and the need to plan for one’s own long-term care needs.

As he passed through D.C. last week, Moses stopped to have lunch with me and to conduct a mini-interview with me, which he has posted on the tour’s YouTube page.

If You Can’t Win Against Them, Remove Them from The Ballot

The Economist recently reported about Hugo Chávez’s abrupt changes of mind. One day he decrees an intelligence law that turns Venezuela into a police state, the next day he denounces it. One day he calls for political recognition for the FARC guerillas in Colombia, the next one he asks them to put down their arms.

One explanation for Chávez’s more conciliatory tone lately is that he’s facing gubernatorial elections in November. His popularity has plummeted to 20%–a record low–and since his party controls all but two governorships in Venezuela, it’s very likely that Chávez will suffer heavy losses in the election.

But, trying to be more likeable isn’t enough to win at the ballot box if the economy is falling apart, so Chávez is taking no chances with the opposition. This is how the Office of the General Comptroller—an institution controlled by Chávez—has disqualified 400 politicians of the opposition from running in November. Among the disqualified is Leopoldo López, the popular mayor of Chacao, a municipality of Caracas, who has become one of the leaders of the fragmented opposition.

It seems that Chávez will try to force his way to an electoral victory in November. The question is: How far is he willing to go?


Edwards’ Budget Law: More Evidence

New evidence reveals the continued power of Edwards’ Budget Law over government policymaking. The law holds that government projects will end up costing at least twice what policymakers initially claim. The policymaking trick is that by the time the full cost is revealed to taxpayers, it’s too late–the project has become too entrenched to be reversed. 

  • From the Washington Post today (“Sports Complex’s Costs Skyrocketing”): “Now that the Arlington County Board has finalized the last land-use deal needed to build a long-awaited sports complex near Crystal City, officials are scrambling to come up with the money to pay for the entire facility, which could exceed $100 million … Initial projections put the cost of the complex at $50 million. But a rapid increase in construction costs has put the planned 119,000-square-foot aquatic center out of reach of the $50 million bond approved by voters in 2004.” 

I wonder where Arlington policymakers will “scramble” to for the other $50 million. Taxpayers perhaps?

  • From the National Journal’s CongressDaily today: “The USDA needs at least twice and possibly four times the $50 million Congress provided to implement the new farm bill, including the new average crop revenue program and disaster aid, Agriculture Secretary Schafer and his deputies said Wednesday.”

The extra costs stem from the USDA’s apparent need to modernize its “antiquated computer system” to process all the new subsidies promised by the bill. That a department which spends more than $90 billion each year has an antiquated computer system is beyond belief.

Tax Credits We Don’t Need, Tax Credits We Do … Ohio #1

Here is the first of what might become a series depending on the fan mail …

We have tax credits for all manner of things at the federal, state, and local levels that we don’t need and shouldn’t have tax credits for … like hybrid cars, movie production, and lemonade stands (the last one isn’t real as far as I know, but I wouldn’t rule it out).

One of the more popular tax credits is for saving old buildings that some people don’t want torn down but don’t care enough about to save with their own collective money. So they subsidize the renovation with credits. The Plain Dealer editorializes in support:

A state historic tax credit that, shortsightedly, was drastically scaled back this spring has now been expanded, thanks in large part to advocacy by Russell Township Rep. Matt Dolan - a leading GOP candidate to become the next Ohio House speaker - and support from Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher.

The program was revived when Gov. Ted Strickland signed a $1.6 billion economic stimulus bill. That will allocate $120 million in tax credits for developers to preserve and renovate historic properties, most of which are in urban areas.

What most states don’t have are education tax credits – the one and only tax credit that makes fiscal sense because it really does save taxpayers’ money and the only tax credit that actually decreases market distortion rather than increasing it.

But I have a question for Ohio’s politicians; if it’s good to encourage developers to invest in building preservation, why isn’t it good to encourage all taxpayers to invest in education? Are developers and old buildings more important than a child’s future?

Will the Plain Dealer, Rep. Matt Dolan, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, and Gov. Ted Strickland come out in support of at least $120 million in tax credits for educating Ohio’s children? If not why not?

Inquiring minds want to know …

Has Trade Saved Us from Recession?

Good news on the economy, sort of. The Commerce Department reported this morning that it has revised the economy’s growth rate in the first quarter of 2008 to 1.0 percent. That is slightly higher than the government’s earlier two estimates and it means we have probably dodged a technical recession, at least for the first half of this year.

Politicians on the campaign trail should take note of the report for a couple of reasons. First, let’s not exaggerate the U.S. economy’s current difficulties. Politicians love a full-blown crisis because it can be used to justify all sorts of regulatory and spending programs. This is not a crisis (and government “stimulus” efforts typically have little effect, anyway).

Second, they should give thanks to America’s more globalized economy for smoothing the business cycle and possibly saving us from full-blown recession this time around. Trade is one of the bright spots of the latest report. While the housing sector has contracted by a quarter, shaving more than a percentage point from overall GDP growth, exports have been going gangbusters. Exports rose by more than 5 percent in the first quarter on an annual basis, offsetting about two-thirds of the negative effect of the housing market.

As I wrote in a Cato Free Trade Bulletin earlier this year on the subject:

[E]xpanding trade and globalization have helped to moderate swings in national output by blessing us with a more diversified and flexible economy. Exports can take up slack when domestic demand sags, and imports can satisfy demand when domestic productive capacity is reaching its short-term limits. … A weakening dollar has helped to boost exports and earnings abroad, but the main driver of success overseas has been strong growth and lower trade barriers outside the United States.

Instead of blaming trade for our current economic slowdown, politicians should be thankful that trade has spared us from something worse.